Down the centuries, devotion to Mary has inspired a rich treasury of
hymns, poetry and art, all celebrating Godís great gift of Redemption
"It can be clearly seen ... how the Marian dimension pervades
the Church's whole life. The proclamation of the Word, the liturgy, the
various charitable and cultural expressions find in Mary an occasion for
enrichment and renewal", the Holy Father said at the General
Audience on Wednesday, 15 November, as he continued his reflections on
the Virgin Mary. The Pope's catechesis on Mary in the spiritual
experience of the Church was the fifth in the series on the Blessed
Mother and was given in Italian.
1. After following in our previous catecheses how the Christian
community's reflection on the figure and role of the Blessed Virgin in
salvation history took shape from the earliest times, let us pause today
to meditate on the Marian experience of the Church.
The development of Mariological thought and devotion to the Blessed
Virgin down the centuries has contributed to revealing ever better the
Church's Marian aspect. Of course, the Blessed Virgin is totally related
to Christ, the foundation of faith and ecclesial experience, and she
leads to him. That is why, in obedience to Jesus, who reserved a very
special role for his Mother in the economy of salvation, Christians have
venerated, loved and prayed to Mary in a most particular and fervent
way. They have attributed to her an important place in faith and piety,
recognizing her as the privileged way to Christ, the supreme Mediator.
The Church's Marian dimension is thus an undeniable element in the
experience of the Christian people. It is expressed in many ways in the
life of believers, testifying to the place Mary holds in their hearts.
It is not a superficial sentiment but a deep and conscious emotional
bond, rooted in the faith which spurs Christians of the past and present
to turn habitually to Mary, to enter into a more intimate communion with
2. After the most ancient prayer, formulated in Egypt by the
Christian communities of the third century, to implore "the Mother
of God" for protection in danger, numerous invocations were
addressed to her, whom the baptized consider most powerful in her
intercession with the Lord.
Christian people have expressed deep devotion to Mary
Today, the most common prayer is the Hail Mary, whose
first part consists of words from the Gospel (cf. Lk 1:28, 42).
Christians learn to recite it at home from their earliest years and
receive it as a precious gift to be preserved throughout life. This same
prayer, repeated tens of times in the Rosary, helps many of the faithful
to enter into prayerful contemplation of the Gospel mysteries and
sometimes to remain for long intervals in intimate contact with the
Mother of Jesus. Since the Middle Ages, the Hail Mary has been
the most common prayer of all believers who ask the Holy Mother of the
Lord to guide and protect them on their daily journey through life (cf.
Apostolic Exhortation Marialis cultus, nn. 42-55).
Christian people have also expressed their love for Mary by
multiplying expressions of their devotion: hymns, prayers and poetic
compositions, simple or sometimes of great quality, imbued with that
same love for her who was given to men as Mother by the Crucified One.
Some of these, such as the "Akathist Hymn" and the "Salve
Regina", have deeply marked the faith life of believers.
The counterpart of Marian piety is the immensely rich artistic
production in the East and West, which has enabled entire generations to
appreciate Mary's spiritual beauty. Painters, sculptors, musicians and
poets have left us masterpieces which, in shedding light on the various
aspects of the Blessed Virgin's greatness, help to give us a better
understanding of the meaning and value of her lofty contribution to the
work of Redemption.
In Mary, Christian art recognizes the fulfilment of a new humanity
which corresponds to God's plan and is therefore a sublime sign of hope
for the whole human race.
3. This message could not fail to be grasped by Christians called to
a vocation of special consecration. In fact, Mary is particularly
venerated in religious orders and congregations, in institutes or
associations of consecrated life. Many institutes, primarily but not
only female, include Mary's name in their title. Nevertheless, over and
above its external expressions, the spirituality of religious families,
as well as of many ecclesial movements, some of which are specifically
Marian, highlight their special bond with Mary as the guarantee of a
charism fully and authentically lived.
This Marian reference in the lives of people particularly favoured by
the Holy Spirit has also developed the mystical dimension, which shows
how the Christian can experience Mary's intervention in the innermost
depths of his being.
This reference to Mary binds not only committed Christians but also
simple believers and even the "distant", for whom it is
frequently their only link with the life of the Church. Pilgrimages to
Marian shrines, which attract large crowds of the faithful throughout
the year, are a sign of the Christian people's common sentiment for the
Mother of the Lord. Some of these bulwarks of Marian piety are famous,
such as Lourdes, Fatima, Loreto, Pompei, Guadalupe and Częstochowa!
Others are known only at the national or local level. In all of them,
the memory of events associated with recourse to Mary conveys the
message of her motherly tenderness, opening our hearts to God's grace.
These places of Marian prayer are a wonderful testimony to God's
mercy, which reaches man through Mary's intercession. The miracles of
physical healing, spiritual redemption and conversion are the obvious
sign that, with Christ and in the Spirit, Mary is continuing her work as
helper and mother.
Marian dimension pervades Church's whole life
4. Marian shrines often become centres of evangelization. Indeed,
even in the Church today, as in the community awaiting Pentecost, prayer
with Mary spurs many Christians to the apostolate and to the service of
their brothers and sisters. Here I would especially like to recall the
great influence of Marian piety on the practice of charity and the works
of mercy. Encouraged by Mary's presence, believers have often felt the
need to dedicate themselves to the poor, the unfortunate and the sick,
in order to be for the lowliest of the earth a sign of the motherly
protection of the Blessed Virgin, the living icon of the Father's mercy.
It can be clearly seen from all this how the Marian dimension
pervades the Church's whole life. The proclamation of the Word, the
liturgy, the various charitable and cultural expressions find in Mary an
occasion for enrichment and renewal.
The People of God, under the guidance of their Pastors, are called to
discern in this fact the action of the Holy Spirit who has spurred the
Christian faith onward in its discovery of Mary's face. It is he who
works marvels in the centres of Marian piety. It is he who, by
encouraging knowledge of and love for Mary, leads the faithful to learn
from the Virgin of the Magnificat how to read the signs of God in
history and to acquire a wisdom that makes every man and every woman the
architects of a new humanity.